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  NSF 03-327 | August 2003   PDF format PDF format | See Related Reports  

Academic R&D Spending Maintains Growth From All Major Sources in FY 2001

by M. Marge Machen Send an e-mail message to the author  and Brandon Shackelford Send an e-mail message to the author

Separately budgeted research and development (R&D)[1] expenditures at universities and colleges continued their upward growth in FY 2001, reaching $32.7 billion—a total increase of 9 percent over FY 2000 levels. When adjusted for inflation, academic R&D increased 6 percent in FY 2001, compared with the 4.3 percent constant dollar average annual growth that was reported during the previous 10 years. These statistics are derived from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges (Academic R&D Survey) and are for science and engineering R&D activities only.

Revised methodology provides for improved estimates of basic research and passed-through funds.

Federally financed academic R&D spending increased 10 percent (7 percent in constant dollars) in FY 2001 to $19.2 billion. Federal funding provided 59 percent of the R&D dollars expended at universities and colleges (table 1). Increases in R&D expenditures from all non-Federal sources combined increased by $1 billion—8 percent—reaching $13.5 billion in FY 2001. Funds from institutions' own sources increased the fastest, over 10 percent in FY 2001. Funds from all other nongovernment/nonindustry sources (including private foundations and voluntary sources) rose 8 percent. State and local governments' funds were up 5 percent in FY 2001, and industry funding was up 4 percent.

Table 1. R&D expenditures at universities and colleges: FY 1999-2001
  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Total expenditures devoted to basic research[2] at universities and colleges rose to $24.2 billion, an 8 percent increase over FY 2000, or a 6 percent gain after adjusting for inflation (table 1).

Estimation of Basic Research

A recent review of responses to the Academic R&D Survey's items requesting the percentage of total and Federal R&D funds that are basic research determined that the aggregate statistics could be improved by refining the imputation methodology for nonresponse to this item.[3] NSF has reestimated academic basic research statistics for FY 1998 and forward. See table 2 for a summary of the changes that the revised imputation methodology makes in the aggregate basic research totals, a 5–6 percentage point increase in the basic research share.

Table 2. Academic basic research, before and after corrections and revised imputation methodology: FY 1997-2000
  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

In the past, if a respondent did not reply to the basic research items, the prior year's basic research share (whether reported by or imputed for the respondent) was carried forward. Interviews with respondents revealed that in some cases abnormal or erroneous values (such as zero percent basic research) were imputed forward for several years. The revised imputation methodology carries forward the prior year's basic research share only if that year's data were reported or estimated by the respondent. In all other cases an econometric model is now used to impute the amount of total and Federal basic research for the respondent. The model employed takes into account differences between public and private institutions and non-Federal sources of R&D funding.

Top Research Performers

R&D expenditures remain highly concentrated in relatively few institutions. The 100 leading research institutions accounted for 82 percent of federally financed R&D spending and 80 percent of all R&D dollars in FY 2001. The 20 leading research performers represented a 32 percent share of federally sponsored expenditures and 31 percent of total academic R&D spending.

Most of the universities that ranked in the top 20 in FY 2001 also ranked among the leading 20 academic performers in FY 2000. Several changed rank positions, but only Baylor College of Medicine was new to this group in FY 2001 and replaced Duke University (ranked 20th in FY 2000) (table 3).

Table 3. Twenty institutions reporting the largest FY 2001 academic R&D expenditures in the sciences and engineering: FY 2000-01
  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Passed-Through Funds

In an attempt to capture all academic R&D expenditures, the NSF Academic R&D Survey instructs respondents to "include research funds for which an outside organization, educational or other, is a subrecipient." The amount of R&D funds passed through to subrecipients has grown from at least 3.8 percent of total academic R&D ($1.0 billion) in FY 1998 to at least 5.0 percent of total academic R&D ($1.6 billion) in FY 2001.[4] Table 4 illustrates that a higher percentage of federally funded R&D dollars are passed through to subrecipients than non-Federal sources of funds. In FY 2001, 7.2 percent of all federally funded academic R&D was passed through to subrecipients as contrasted to 1.8 percent of all non-Federal sources of funds. It is unclear whether this difference is the result of Federal sources of funding explicitly encouraging cross-institution R&D collaboration.

Table 4. Academic research and development funds passed through to subrecipients: FY 1998-2001
  Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

In addition to reporting R&D funds passed through to all subrecipients, respondents also differentiate funds passed through to educational subrecipients and other subrecipients. Given the coverage of the Academic R&D Survey and the specific wording of its instructions, it is reasonable to believe that virtually all of the R&D expenditures that were reported as being passed to educational subrecipients were captured by the survey twice—from the originating institutions and from the subrecipient institutions. Although it is more difficult for respondents to identify funds they received as subrecipients, data collected by NSF related to this question confirm this hypothesis.[5]

Data Notes

The academic R&D expenditures data presented in this InfoBrief were obtained from 609 universities and colleges that grant graduate degrees in the sciences or engineering and expend at least $150 thousand in research in the surveyed fiscal year. NSF has collected annual data through this survey since 1972. The FY 2001 Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges detailed statistical tables are available on the Web at

NSF makes available profiles for individual doctorate-granting institutions and institutions of higher education with science and engineering (S&E) departments that grant master's degrees (Academic Institutional Profiles, The profiles contain data from this survey as well as from two other NSF academic S&E surveys: the Survey of Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions and the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. Current and historic data from the three surveys are also available via the World Wide Web ( by individual survey and the Computer-Aided Science Policy Analysis and Research (WebCASPAR) database system, a Web tool for retrieval and analysis of statistical data on academic science and engineering resources (

This InfoBrief was prepared by:

M. Marge Machen and Brandon Shackelford
Division of Science Resources Statistics
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965
Arlington, VA 22230


[1] Separately budgeted research and development (R&D) includes all funds expended for activities specifically organized to produce research and development outcomes and commissioned by an agency either external to the institution or separately budgeted by an organizational unit within the institution.

[2] Basic research is defined on the survey as research "directed toward an increase of knowledge; it is research where the primary aim of the investigator is a fuller knowledge or understanding of the subject under study rather than a specific application thereof."

[3] The University of California was instrumental in assisting NSF in providing more accurate basic research data.

[4] The response rate for this item was 89.4 percent in FY 1998, 87.5 percent in FY 1999, 89.2 percent in FY 2000, and 89.5 percent in FY 2001. Values for this item are not imputed for nonrespondents so reported totals are possibly underestimates of true totals. In addition, some respondents reporting total and Federal funds passed through did not break out these funds by type of subrecipient (educational or other).

[5] Data from the Academic R&D Survey and other surveys are used to analyze patterns of R&D activity in the United States. For the purpose of this analysis the most recent data update of the report National Patterns of R&D Resources adjusts university and college R&D performance to net out R&D expenditures reported as passed through to educational subrecipients beginning with FY 1998. National Patterns reports and data updates can be accessed on the NSF website: